Whether it’s the charming old tea room of the former Grand Hotel (which is now the contemporary art museum), the Belle Epoque Intercontinental Carlton Hotel or the unusually designed private house of Pierre Cardin (the Palais Bulles), Cannes has a lot to offer architecture lovers. Here are five of the most interesting architectural structures to admire in Cannes.
A few minutes’ drive from Cannes’ town centre in neighbouring Théoule-sur-Mer, high in the hills overlooking the bay, is the quirky Palais Bulles (‘bubble house’). It was designed by architect Antti Lovag and is owned by French fashion designer Pierre Cardin. It’s a series of pink, circular buildings, running into one another, each with their own circular perspective on the bay beyond, and is a truly wonderful sight. It is still used for events in the fashion world – Dior held a show here – but it’s private property, so don’t show up without an invitation unless you can afford to rent it out.
Château Thorenc was originally designed in the 1870s for the Duchess of Bedford, and many famous and prestigious gardeners worked on landscaping its grounds throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the results of which are still evident today. The building was completely modernised in the 1960s and transformed into chic apartments (which all face south), but they still retain many of the classical features, as well as access to the sumptuous grounds, swimming pool, tennis courts and gardens. It’s one of the most enviable addresses in Cannes.
The Town Hall in Cannes was built by Louis Hourlier over a three-year period, and completed in 1877. It’s a great example of architecture from the period and it’s well-preserved, too. Overlooking the port of Cannes, the Mairie also offers lovely views out over the sea. As is the case with most French town halls, the building serves as an important administrative location and is where locals come to register weddings, births and deaths.
Situated on La Croisette, the famous esplanade on the seafront at Cannes, La Malmaison was the site of the former Grand Hotel, which was shut, demolished and then completely rebuilt. The only thing that remains of the old building is this seaside pavilion, as well as the former games and tea rooms. After being bought by the city and following considerable renovation work in 1983, it is now the centre of modern contemporary art in Cannes. It hosts two exhibitions a year, showcasing the masters such as Matisse and Picasso, and other modern 20th-century work.
The Intercontinental Carlton Hotel is legendary in Cannes. Socially, it has played host to a number of celebrities and members of the jet set, which it welcomes every year for each of Cannes’ lauded festivals (such as the Cannes Film Festival in May and the yachting festival in September). This is where Grace Kelly filmed To Catch A Thief in 1955 and was rumoured to have met Prince Rainier – she later became his Princess. Elton John has even filmed a music video here. The architecture provides the stunning backdrop to all this decadence. Built by Charles Dalmas in 1911, it is a wonderful example of Belle Epoque architecture. This period was an optimistic one in French history (1871–1914): society underwent significant transformation; there was great progress in the arts and sciences; and France wasn’t fighting any wars. It is said that the domed roofs of the hotel are modelled on the breasts of a famous Spanish actress and courtesan called Carolina ‘La Belle’ Otero. This building is unmissable, for cultural as well as aesthetic reasons.